Forgive Us Our Trespasses

The Chihuahuan desert-scrub slopes around Bisbee, Arizona are a patchwork of private land and federal BLM properties. The private land is rarely marked and most of the land-owners are either absentee or don’t have a problem with people traversing their land.

The other day I was walking along a canyon slope north of town, trying to find a usable path. I’d find what looked like a trail but inevitably the path would peter out and become a deer and javelina trail. I was trying to avoid too-steep slopes, patches of thorny acacia, and thickets which can only be crawled through on hands and knees.

I paused and watched a coyote loping up a draw away from me. It looked over its shoulder from time to time to see what I was doing.

Some of the slopes are too steep to walk along, and many are covered with loose scree. Sometimes just getting up to a ridge-top is quite a feat of navigation.

I happened across a lot, a ledge which had most likely been blasted out during the copper-mining heyday. There might well have been a house on the lot at one time, but whatever access lane or set of steps which might have existed then was long gone.

Someone had expended energy on this forlorn lot at one time. A partially-finished concrete-block retaining wall curved across the downhill side of the lot, adding a bit more level area to the ledge, widening a minor notch in the canyon slope.


I noticed that a pine tree had been planted in the earth retained by the wall. It was about thirty feet tall and had a trunk about a foot in diameter. I estimated that the tree was thirty or forty years old. It must have been planted after the retaining wall was built. That pine functions as a date marker. Whoever had plans for that lot was probably working on the wall back in the late ’60s or early 70’s.

What intrigued me about the tree was a rusty one-piece wheel-rim which encircled the trunk:


The only conceivable way that wheel-rim could have gotten there is if the tree as a seedling had been planted within it. The rim was probably intended to protect the young tree from mowers and animals. In another decade or so the iron rim which protected the tree in its youth might doom it if a human doesn’t intervene with a cutting torch or hacksaw. There is a chance that the cambium layer will manage to creep around the wheel-rim and engulf it.

I was contemplating this tree and its possible fate when an elderly woman popped up over the hill and regarded me suspiciously.

“Can I help you?”, she said, a polite landowner’s code for “So just what are you doing here on MY property?”

I tried to explain my presence as best I could, that I was just walking by, taking photos, etc.

I said, “So this is your property?”

“Yes, we own this whole side of the canyon. Our house is right down there.”

She pointed to a house down the slope and near the street.

I said “Well, I’ll walk on, then.”

I imagine there have been very few trespassers on that lot, as it isn’t easy to get to! I later heard from a neighbor that the retired couple who own the property are rather territorial.

This happens to me every so often, but I’m not fazed. If someone wants me to stay off their turf they should put up a fence, or at least a sign!




Filed under Arizona, Essays and Articles, Photos

4 responses to “Forgive Us Our Trespasses

  1. You hardy protagonist of walk-through rights!

  2. I’ve been on both sides of this– the one walking and finding out somebody else owned it and didn’t want me there and the one coming out to ask what someone is doing who is wading up our creek. As a landowner, there is some responsibility based on lawsuit risks but it does seem a shame it has to be that way.

  3. Marian

    Hi Larry – Really interesting about the tire rim – Being an inquisitive person like I am, I would have asked her if she knew the story of the tire rim. About property lines – I wonder if the town would have maps showing land ownerships – Marian

  4. The more crowded our planet becomes the more of an issue this will be, Rain. William Bartram and J.J. Audubon didn’t have much to worry about!

    Marian, I would have asked the woman about the rim, but her demeanor didn’t encourage further conversation.

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